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Trying a different beat
Fort Simpson students learn to play the djembe

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 31, 2012

The beat of a different type of drum rolled through the halls of Bompas Elementary School last week.

NNSL photo/graphic

Abigail Pascua-Matte, left, and Stevie-May Gargan-LaCasse perform at Bompas Elementary School's drum concert. The students spent four days learning how to play the djembe, a drum from West Africa. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

From May 22 to 25, David Kovatch, an instructor with The One World Drum Company in Calgary, taught students how to play the djembe, a drum from West Africa. Bernice Gargan, the school's language and cultural instructor, organized Kovatch's visit.

Building on the drum unit in the Dene Kede curriculum, Gargan said she wanted to expose the students to a different type of drum, rather than just the traditional Dene drum.

Gargan had participated in a workshop by The One World Drum Co. a few years ago at a teacher's conference.

"I enjoyed it so much," she said.

The Fort Simpson students quickly mirrored Gargan's enthusiasm.

"They love it. They can't wait to come," said Gargan on May 26.

The beauty of the djembe is that one can quickly start playing it and making great sounds, said Kovatch.

"They feel like after one hour they can be a rock star," he said.

Kovatch began by teaching the students how to make open tones and base tones on the drum depending on how they strike the drum with their hands. Kovatch then moved into basic rhythms and polyrhythms, splitting classes into two and giving each section a different rhythm to play.

Kovatch said his philosophy is to teach participants as much as he can in the time he has with them.

"I love to throw as many rhythms as I can," he said.

Kovatch said drumming has a number of benefits including decreasing stress levels.

"When you're concentrating on playing on the drum there's no one who's thinking of any other problem," he said.

Drumming also works both sides of the brain at the same time, he said.

Gargan said she could see the students working as a team, learning patterns and concentrating during their class sessions with Kovatch. Drumming came naturally to most of the students.

"The second day they had it," she said.

The students wrapped up the drumming workshop by performing a concert for family and community members at the recreation centre on May 25.

Final song

Each class performed a song they had learned and for the final song members of the audience were given drums and other percussion instruments to play along with.

After the performance Chasity Isaiah, 11, said she liked playing her part in her class' song.

"It was cool and fun," she said about the workshop.

Isaiah, who'd never played a djembe before said she'd like to continue drumming.

Lydia Nelner, 6, is also a new djembe fan.

"I had fun with the drums," she said.

Nelner said that learning to play the djembe was easy and that she liked performing her class's song.

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